Ordinary People, Extraordinary World
Updated: Mar 30
By Hannah Wolfman-Jones
I am an ordinary person living an ordinary life. I have no qualifications. I have no authority.
In an ordinary world, I would watch the thinkers featured in this book, the people shaping our digital landscape, our collaborative world, and just consume. In an ordinary world, I would stay forever behind a laptop, lay back, eat popcorn, and watch the drama of society in flux. I'd bite my nails at the cliff-hanger of threatened cryptocurrency bans, shake my fist at expanding surveillance, and feel my stomach lurch at every peak and valley of the Bitcoin price charts. But I would be solely a witness in the creation of something big.
But this is no ordinary world. This is a brave new world of trustless, permissionless, borderless, censorship-resistant, peer-to-peer collaboration, and exchange. This is a world where an anonymous person can publish a whitepaper online and change the world.
Satoshi Nakamoto made this world possible when she/he/they anonymously dropped a whitepaper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-To-Peer Electronic Cash System” on October 31, 2008. With the invention of Bitcoin, people can transact peer-to-peer and hold digital wealth themselves, without the permission of middlemen such as banks, governments, or credit card companies. What’s more, the digital tokens tracked and passed with blockchains The invention resulted in an explosion of creativity around blockchains, the tech behind Bitcoin. With Bitcoin and other blockchains, digital tokens - whether they represent money, company stock, votes, or something else - can now be programmed. New methods are being created for removing the middlemen controlling our finances, our social media, our data, our rideshares, our contracts, and even our governments.
So, I will not ask for permission. I will go beyond witness to think, speak, collaborate, and act. I will fork these ideas and embark on a branch of my own.
Because in this extraordinary new decentralized world, network effects matter. These new financial and other systems based on math (instead of banks and government force) depend on the strength of the network to protect against attack, provide liquidity, and guarantee continuity in the future. So I cannot just sit this change out because, ultimately, it is up to us ordinary people - the masses required to make the network - to decide the future.
And yet, how can we? Being educated about the Bitcoin-birthed movement for decentralization involves understanding complex cryptography, game theory, economics, governance, computer science, human behavior, and more. It is not only ordinary people who face a problem of insufficient expertise. When it comes to something like the implications of the invention of Bitcoin, even the experts run into a serious shortage.
As is often the case in the internet era, the problem in knowing about Bitcoin’s impacts is best described by some random comment on the internet:
Agreed @robustus, let’s acknowledge (“ack”) it. None of us are really qualified to assess the full implications of Bitcoin: it’s too broad. The subject matter is just too large for one person to have sufficient time and knowledge to fully understand. We need a wide range of disciplines to speak about blockchain-enabled societal changes.
None of us can be an expert in everything involved in forming our shared digital future. We must lean on the expertise and talents of each other to create the digital world we want. That’s why I founded We The Web, L3C, and spearheaded the writing of System Override: How Bitcoin, Blockchain, Free Speech & Free Tech Can Change Everything. The collaboration of this book is in recognition of my own limitations as well as the inherent limitations of all of us - even the most informed experts.
In this book, a varied group of leading experts and creators of the digital future will cover the specific subjects of their expertise. The writers are among the top thinkers, creators, and educators in free software, private computing/currencies, data rights, mass surveillance, blockchain, Bitcoin, free speech, and collaboration across ideologies. Thus each chapter in the book (except those by me) will be delivered by the person who is arguably the most qualified in the world to speak on those subjects. What’s more, because these experts do not all know or agree with each other, we have the opportunity to more robustly debate - and thus more deeply understand - the issues at hand.
With the world in a state of rapid change at the hands of technological development and now a pandemic, change is coming whether we want it or not. These new systems are still under development, but rapidly gaining steam. Now is the time to engage in vigorous analysis, experimentation, and debate around these fledgling systems. We The Web is a call for us all to be a more moral and informed part of forming a better shared digital future - something we are all a part of whether we intend to be or not.